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What kind of a man now occupies the White House? That question has obsessed me and countless others ever since Donald Trump assumed office, but particularly during the days following the uproar at Charlottesville.
There are so many descriptors that come to mind, but the overriding image, in my judgment, is that of a man “playing” at being president and in the process masquerading as one thing after another.
At first, I thought of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the Trump persona is far more complicated than that, changing not as day turns to night but at a moment’s notice, with a variety of guises that defy belief.
The “lover of all people” failed to persuade those accustomed to his diatribes against religious and ethnic groups that he scapegoats as the source of national and world problems, to say nothing of those astounded by his equating of white nationalist and neo-fascist violence with other forms of protest.
The “truth-teller” denouncing lies spread by dishonest journalism is but a flimsy disguise for a man who tells lies almost daily.
The “strong leader” persona might seem authentic in a banana republic but not as head of a state where leadership entails persuading a majority of the populace and their solons in the legislature.
The cloak of “unifier” ends up in tatters when blatant appeals to his base of support results in accentuating resentments.
The “deal-maker” role that generally served him well in business holds up less well in governmental and inter-governmental spheres, when he fails to learn the intricacies of the problems while insisting that his solutions are the right ones.
Self-proclaimed “champion of law and order,” time and again he strips away that mask by revealing it is his law and his orders that he aspires to enforce, irrespective of the Constitution or the rulings of judicial officers. When a sheriff who was an outspoken accomplice in this cause was convicted of contempt of court, Trump pardoned his ally at the expense of the law.
Professed believer in the values that made America great, his actions have belied his words, as persistently he has placed his own self-aggrandizement in espousing retrograde policies that cater to baser instincts over the consensual values historically pursued by American presidents.
On the world stage, arrogance, inexperience and inconsistency have made Trump more the emperor with no clothes than the leader of the free world. Many cringed when he donned the garb of “America First,” the mantra that almost paved the way for Axis victory in the 1930s. More recoiled at the “fire and fury” rhetoric.
How can we admire a president so mired in disgraceful subterfuge and charades? The Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde analogy fails by ignoring all the good works the doctor performed during most of his waking hours.
Instead I am drawn to the metaphor of the Man of a Thousand Faces. Lon Chaney, the actor who earned that sobriquet, knew his disguises were artifice. Probably Trump does as well, and to have such a person as president is scary enough. But if Trump does not see that — and somehow the myriad of masquerades is his reality — that is even scarier.
Thomas Guinsburg is a retired professor of history at Western University.
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